By: Sharon Urias, Esq.
During the past several years, there has been a significant increase in the number of new craft breweries established in the United States. The nearly 40% growth has resulted in over 4,000 brewery-associated businesses nationwide. With such staggering growth in one industrial sector, it is not only ripe for an influx of trademark registrations, but also numerous trademark infringement disputes.
Beer makers, wineries, distilleries, restaurants, wine bars, pubs and other related businesses can quickly become adversaries in a highly competitive market. With increasing menus of beers sharing “beer terms,” geographical references and locations, competing businesses are experiencing confusion among consumers and it is appropriate that trademark owners protect their marks from infringement by competitors.
In a recent twist, a neighborhood in Sacramento, California named “Oak Park” tried to stop a craft brewer called Oak Park Brewing Co. from registering its logo as a trademark. In 2015, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) denied Oak Park Brewing Co.’s trademark registration for its logo, citing the Lanham Act’s ban on marks that merely describe geographical locations. Last week, however, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) ruled that Oak Park Brewing Co. could register its logo as a trademark.
In such an appeal, the geographical descriptiveness the Board considers has to be a name known generally to the American consumer, rather than simply being the name of a place. While the Board acknowledged that Oak Park is the name of a place, it found that the USPTO examiner failed to show that the general public had heard of it, and found that many people outside of Sacramento were largely unaware of it. Essentially, the name of the Oak Park neighborhood was too minor and obscure for the brewery to be refused its trademark registration.
What can be taken away from the Oak Park case and the growing craft brewery business in general is that in competitive and booming industries, it is critically important not only to protect your trademark, but to consult with a trademark attorney to determine if your mark is being infringed upon or if your mark infringes on that of another. Doing your due-diligence ahead of time can protect you from potential future trademark disputes and litigation.